The whole community is in an uneasy uproar. This is not new to the community of Ugep; the same thing happened from the night of December 23rd to 24th, 1975, during the burning down of Ugep by the military; also after the death of Jude (Junior) by a rival gang in June, 2017 – a death which brought about the deployment of SARS officials for the apprehenson of the culprits, to which many took to their heels. So Ugep isn’t alien to this unrest that emanates from violence, which leaves and begs the question: Why does the death of Ofem Arikpo AKA J-Boy (May, 1997 – April, 2020) have a chantlike zing to it?
Ofem ‘John’ Arikpo, popularly referred to as J-Boy, is an indigene of Ibenda, Biko-Biko, Ugep. One of seven children – born, May, 1997 and mauled to death on April 21st, 2020. He grew up a normal kid and experienced childhood like everyone else; if he was asked what he would love to be when he grew up, his best pick will definitely not have been what everyone knew him to be. Being close to him you could see someone who heard respect and fear but not afraid to try new adventures out. He was a brother, a friend, very loyal to a fault, his company was one you enjoyed and getting to know him better told you everything about his life’s phylosophy. Yes, he had a phylosophy – one that accepted all, believed good in everyone and thought the best of others.
Speaking with some of his school teachers (primary and secondary) and close friends; there was this underlying disbelief about the public image everyone had and held of him. They admitted that while teaching him, they found a gentle and easy going boy, one that they believed was going to be outstanding in his academic life pursuits. He also was attested of as someone with a big smile; he’d go out of his own way to put a smile on someone’s face – he indeed was a friendly friend!
This however, is part of his life most people don’t know about, simply because they only heard about the last six months of his life that over twenty years of living was defined by last moments. There is no denying that he, like many others, is a victim of peer pressure and negative influence. Over the years, people have led crusade, promising protection, power and the delusional idea of being secured once you are in the midst of frat brothers – but they never tell you the downside. J-Boy was a victim of this ignorance and fell for the promise off power, which he pursued, with the help of his superiors.
He was lied to and like every other gullible youth, he fell for it. He was put into the game at a tender age of fifteen (15) along with others who weren’t as ambitious and determined like he was. Achieving the spotlight has never been something of an issue he has to struggle with, he was lovely and easily lovable. His ambition and style followed him into this ignoble cause and he stood loyal in the face of circumstances – which attributed lies and framed murders to his name, although he was innocent. Allegations were pinned to his name and he tried his best to clear his name, but men had taken the former to be the case. He was indeed a lovely soul.
Prior to this time, calls and cries (not a few) have been made for the morally equipped of the society to stand uniformly and fight against this plaguing, manacing and recurring violence that has portrayed itself to be a sisyphean task; but nothing has been done in the land simply because, cries don’t bring more than tears when the appropriate authorities have declared themselves redundant, deciding not to act, amidst the many evident killings. Of course, there is enough blame to go around, but there is no denying that the current leadership in Ugep is a failed system that does nothing more than talking – just talking!
Under the previous leadership of HRM Obol Ubi Ujong Inah, an erudite by all standard of leadership; the land only experienced violence that flowed from foreign bodies, to which he deployed diplomacy and restored order to a once turbulent situation. A fraction of his accomplishments cannot be attributed to Obol Ofem Ubana (HRM), who sits as the leader of the Ugep people and Yakurr community as a whole. If there is a system to blame for what happened before and on April, 21st, 2020, which resulted in the gruesome maiming of J-Boy, the leadership is to blame. Nothing is to be taken away from any riveting arguments but, this should never have been if the leadership took proper and conscious steps in the right direction.
Thoreau once said: “Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one” and no idea prevails without the support of a majority; this a concept that J-Boy bought in to and the leadership of Ugep, under its current head didn’t see the need to employ the powers his good offices yields and holds to constraining this societal menace. It can be observed clearly that an impediment lay before the community’s head, in regards to the curbing of this crime, because as a godfather of J-Boy, there was an attachment, as a parent, the feeling of insecurtiy and as a leader, the feeling of autonomous power to act at will and preference.
In 2019, the land experienced a reasonable level of peace. There was a sense of safety and comfort and people felt free traveling into Ugep to do business without worries of encountering any frightening situation. It still is fresh in the memory of many that during the latter part of 2019, there was a case swept under the rug, where some members of the Vikings fraternity bullied the family of a member of theirs and one of them ended raping the seizure prone daughter of the family in question, because they couldn’t find who they were after. The paramount leader didn’t take steps in addressing the case, par bringing the culprits (who were known) to book. That carelessness sparked a rivelry and created factions within the said fraternity, which led to the death of one Mr. Otu (popularly referred to as ‘No Mercy’ due to his signature lifestyle), with all blames being heaped on J-Boy, who at this time just got installed as the Coordinator of the fraternity (known more as Baggers), despite his innocence in the case!
Still, nothing was done to curb this violence; and it is a simple belief that what is not condemned slowly (and even unconsciously) becomes commended. Like a virus, these atrocities continued and the stool of authority in the land didn’t leverage on the privileges the stool brought to the occupant; A Divisional Police Headquarters, an Area Command center still could not function collectively to reduce these cases to the barest minimum, if not completely. One can hold the inactivity of the Police to be due to the known truth that many people in positions of power, politicians, businessmen and the community’s leadership included, use these nusciating rascals as goons for hire in settling their public and private fueds. No wonder they felt themselves to be necessary evils.
What portrayed the sorry state of the leadership in Ugep, including the failed Police authorities in the area was the killing of the owner of the hotel, 21 Suites, Mr. Emmanuel Utum Solomon; no findings or investigations was conducted to solving the alleged murder case; rather, assumption were made and conclusions jumped into, with all fingers pointing at J-Boy, who was not in town at the time, totally clueless about the case. In J-Boy’s defence, he sent a text message to the Obol Lopon, denying allegations of the murder incident. He would later say “Give am small time, him real killers go commot” (“Give it some time, his real killers will be revealed”). But all these were pinned to his name simply because he was the trending personality at the time – especially after the killing of Otu (‘No Mercy’) – again, by someone else, not J-Boy!
These things all escalated, forming the big cloud that rained down the brimstones, eventually leading to his early demise. The Police, even to this day have not taken any conscious step to apprehend the killers of Mr. Emmanuel Utum Arikpo. They just allowed false rumors circulate. Similarly, the leadership failed to call external legal authorities to look in to the case, even after the Obol Lopon received a verified text from J-Boy stating that he was innocent of the crime; that this was a stigma aimed at ruining his name. If the proper authorities looked closely, they would have found out that the said Mr. Emmanuel had unfinished business with certain personalities in Lagos before relocating to Ugep. They collectively planned and carried out the attack on him that claimed his life in the process. His death was simply a product of unpaid debts to authorizes he shouldn’t have defiled in the first place.
“Better is the end of a thing, than the beginning…”, so the good book says – but that didn’t apply to J-Boy – his cruel death is evident already.
Everything started when he took over the Coordination of the Vikings fraternity in Ugep. As the custom is, he went about the normal rounds to inspect and command the loyalty of his fellow brother to his Government. Some accepted, others declined – one of them being Mr. Otu (popularly known as ‘No Mercy’). When ‘No Mercy’ refused to submit to J-Boy’s Government, a fellower of J-Boy, opened a shot without the approval of his leader, simply because he had a vandetta to settle in the first place (the rapping of his epileptic sister)! J-Boy personally condemned that death, but many refused to believed that, simply because he was the leader – you know, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
That killing set in motion a lot of things, as people threatened to fight back (among whom are former Coordinators of the fraternity), because they felt humiliated by a ‘small boy’ according to their pride and standard. Those who could run, fled; those who felt strong enough to oppose, stayed – but they treaded with caution. All opposing factions steathly planned ways to take out this new threat they have. J-Boy stopped Baggers from gambling in fight-prone-games, ended unreasonable braggings and threatenings from frat Brothers to others. He was maintaining order at its peak, stopping violence to others also.
J-Boy said, in many words; “These people ruined the safety of our blessed community with their violence. I’m just here to put an end to that, but people misunderstand me greatly. I can’t allow their words to sway me, because a simple act of carelessness can end me because many people want me dead, all they need is an opportunity”. He didn’t live in ignorance; he was fully aware of what he was up against. But if he had known…
Prior to the week of his killing, rumors were all about that he had intentions and threatening to kill some people, among whom were Obol Ofem Ubana, the Obol Lopon of Ugep and the Paramount Ruler of Yakurr, and Arikpo of Ibenda 1 – these were just rumors, but it is the habit of bad news to spread faster than good news. This type of humor was beyond bad, it was wicked.
Reacting to this rumor, people while sitting with Arikpo on Friday, the 18th day of April, 2020, asked him; “J-Boy dey find you, wetin you go do”? (J-Boy is looking for you, what are you going to do about it?). He responded with: “J-Boy don drill me before, collect my things. I no dey de game again but I go still loyal give him Government. If him knack me, two people go follow me enter grave” (“J-Boy has once caught and drilled me. I’m not into the game much, but I’ve decided to respect his Government. If he kills me, two people are going to die and be buried along with me”). This conversation occurred in a drinking joint, making it easy for the word to spread!
Exactly two days later, while young men gathered at White House Hotel for their normal rounds of frivolities and merriments, Arikpo, still without J-Boy’s knowledge, was shot by someone under J-Boy, few hours before the midnight of Sunday, April 19th, 2020. He died Monday, April 20th, 2020 due to lack of proper and suffcient medical response and attention. That death, Arikpo’s death started an upheaval. Family and friends sought of revenge.
On Monday, April 20th, 2020, the Obol Lopon of Ugep paid a courtesy visit to his God-son, attacking him with the rumor, beckoning on him to stop the violence. A plea to which J-Boy paid attention to as he debunked earlier rumors about his plot to kill his very own god-father. A little financial incentive was given to him there, to aid his smooth transit out of town. He was ready to leave, lay low for a while and allow the town to itself – sadly, that trip never happened!
On Tuesday, April 21st, 2020, early in the morning, a mob of gang members under the guise of Youths from Ibenda 2 of Biko-Biko ward, led by God’swill, Osoronjo and Blackie, went to J-Boy’s house at Njelekoko, Ibenda 1, but he wasn’t home – their mission was threatenings with a promise to end him finally (they left the message behind). They later made calls to him, asking that he comes over, if indeed he was the man he claimed to be. He shrugged with an “una no reach. Na children una be” (You guys aren’t a match, you all are children) – he didn’t bulge. He didn’t go there. He had no idea that plots have been motion prior to that day, even diabolic plans including the use of dark voodoo magic, sacrificing a child (a virgin) in a stream called “Okolowi”, all weakening his will, resolve and ability to see clearly – ultimately empowering themselves spiritually over him; they had been told by a certain woman who performed the ritual that if he doesn’t come to them before 12noon of that very same day, they can’t kill him again. So they kept pressuring.
Still determined to keep the peace and travel, J-Boy got himself ready for his trip to Calabar along with his girlfriend who was prepared and waiting for him as his mother joined in preparing what he’ll be travelling with. It so happened that at that exact moment, he received a call from his god-father, Obol Ofem Ubana, beckoning on J-Boy to help him settle some nuisance somewhere around the community. He inquired why the Obol Lopon would change his mind immediately after soliciting for peace the previous day. The king told him not to worry; he trusts him to maintain the other there and a man that he is. So he decided to do just that – as service to his king. A king who should have called the Police instead – no he decided to end the one threat he felt he had – thus sending J-Boy into the hornet’s nest he knows will end his life before the deadline of 12noon.
Against the advice of his mother, girlfriend and some friends; he still went there – to the very place that called him earlier with a promise to end him. He felt himself adequately prepared and fortified to engage the angry mob. He proceeded to the spot with some of his loyal followers, ready and prepared for the worst. On getting there, the mob, all dressed in underwear (without a vest) only, waited till he got close to them, whereupon they started verbal threatenings and it escalated into a shoot out. None of the bullets could penetrate the mob and they stood well prepared. Well, bullets got exhausted and J-Boy’s men took to flight but, but the angry and vandetta filled mob jumped on him and mauled him until they left him in a very dead and unrecognizable state. He died along with a loyal friend who tried to take a bullet for him – that ended his life two (a total of two people Arikpo said would die alongside him).
That Tuesday was a bloody day, some cried, others cussed, some celebrated, others mourned him. Man wasn’t made to die that way – not like an animal. It’s a day we all will remember, a brother was lost. A friend was taken away and a child was killed (sad for his mother who had to witness it on her way from the market). It was a sad day.
Still, it can’t be ignored that the law enforcement agencies are so redundant in the land. They do not work, except for personal gain and political use. They’ve stayed so idle to the point that the community has bought into the idea of jungle justice, rather than letting the law have its full cause. They’ve given themselves to bribes and extortion that crimes happen freely and unrestrained in the community; leaving lives and families in insecure states and conditions. A Police Area Command and Divisional Police Headquarters in a particular location, it should create a reasonable level of fear, decency, law and order in the environment and environs – but the law enforcement authorities in Ugep community have posed themselves as useless ands that’s what they are – useless!
There’s no Government intervention; there never is, except it involves relatives of prominent men; selfish men or politicians using the Police for the profiting of their personal interests. There’s call to the Government to look into the undue dormancy and seeming powerlessness of the Police in Ugep. They can and should bring in external bodies like the SARS, Anti-Cultism group, etc, to help curbing this torn, and reducinto the barest minimum, if not totally. The Obol Lopon can make that call, but then again, will his selfish interest allow him do that? Another one will come up to sit as Coordinator of the fraternity and all this will start over again, except action is taken now. This is a call for action, as lives should be valued and protected. The violence should end.
Farewell Ofem ‘John’ Arikpo (J-Boy), you’ll live on in the hearts of many!
NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Emilia Usani and Sabastine Omini and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.
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